France, US among other nations to evacuate 14K stranded in India

Published on Mar 27, 2020 11:57 PM IST
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New Delhi

The US, France, Germany and other countries are engaged in hectic efforts to evacuate close to 14,000 of their nationals stranded in India following the suspension of commercial flights around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

France and the US are hopeful of organising the first flights for their citizens by the end of this week, people familiar with developments said on Friday. There are nearly 2,000 French tourists stranded in the country while hundreds of American travellers are waiting to fly out, the people said on condition of anonymity.

Russia has close to 8,000 tourists in the country, mostly in Goa, while more than 450 were evacuated on Wednesday. Japan, Malaysia and Ukraine have also operated special flights to fly out hundreds of their nationals.

About 1,500 Israeli nationals have been evacuated in six flights from New Delhi, Mumbai and Goa since March 21. Two flights – one operated by Air India and another by El Al – with about 600 Israeli citizens took off from New Delhi on Thursday night.

An alert posted on the US embassy’s website on Friday said efforts by the state department and airlines to arrange flights from India “are making progress”, with “initial flights most likely to depart New Delhi and Mumbai”.

“We will seek to facilitate travel from other cities in India as flights become available,” the alert said, adding US citizens should ensure their travel documents were up to date and be prepared to depart at short notice.

German ambassador Walter Lindner has been leading efforts at a 24x7 crisis centre within his embassy to facilitate the evacuation of more than 3,000 German tourists and travellers from other European countries. An avid user of social media, he has been posting regular updates on evacuation flights on his Twitter handle.

So far, the German embassy has arranged two flights by Lufthansa from Delhi to Frankfurt using Airbus A380 jets, the world’s largest passenger aircraft, to evacuate 750 Germans and 250 nationals of other European countries such as Sweden. The first flight was operated on March 25 and the second took off on Thursday.

Lindner tweeted after the second flight: “Thanks to IND authorities (esp MEA) for helping us doing this amidst lock-down. What an operation!”

A person familiar with developments said the German embassy is looking to evacuate 2,500 more tourists in the coming days.

Officials from several embassies said arranging the evacuation involved complex logistics, including arranging movement passes and buses for their nationals stranded in tourist destinations such as Goa and Rishikesh and accommodation in the cities from which the flights take off.

The embassies have also created special programmes – such as the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) of the US – and set up hotlines for registering their stranded citizens for evacuation flights.

Efforts are also being made to help the stressed travellers relax. The German embassy, for example, opened up its garden to some of the stranded tourists shortly before their flight for a session of “distance yoga”.

There are also reports of Indians stranded in other parts of the world being assisted by authorities. On Friday, 19 Indians stuck at the Dubai airport for several days were provided hotel rooms within the airport, the Indian mission tweeted. They were also provided financial help to buy food.

Dubai authorities are also taking care of 10 more Indians, who are residents of the UAE and arrived from different parts of the world at Dubai airport. They have been put in quarantine, officials said.

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